The term masculinity has been much debated in recent years. If you take the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition, it means: “Qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of men.”
Yes. Not exactly unambiguous, is it?
I mean, which men? Where? How old are they and do they like cricket?
Ok, I’m being facetious. We know what it means.
We also know what those qualities and attributes once were, traditionally. In more positive terms, it was strength, stoicism, familial responsibility, chivalry, a good moustache. Less positive were associations with aggression, chauvinism, emotional immaturity and ignorance, rampant heterosexuality, and being able to drink loads of beer.
The reason masculinity has been discussed so much lately, is that it is in flux.
Many of the notions above have become outmoded or redundant. Men don’t need to be the breadwinner, they don’t need to ‘look after the little lady’, and they certainly don’t need to bottle up emotions (the suicide rates among men show that).
Moustaches are still cool, though.
This flux has caused confusion, particularly for men in their 30s and 40s who have existed as a connector between a bygone age of ‘men being men’ and a new, social media- and reality TV-fuelled age of openness (I’m in no way suggesting that society is anything less than patriarchal, still, but the tide has changed and is hopefully unstoppable.)
The question for these men is, what is *their* masculinity?
What ‘qualities or attributes’ should be regarded as characteristic of them? It’s a tough question to answer, which means many men don’t even ask themselves, but there is a way to help.
It’s a cliché, but travel really can help you ‘find yourself’, and travelling alone is a particularly useful compass.
TIME TO STOP PERFORMING
“The biggest problem men have today is that they are disconnected from themselves,” says Fernando Desouches, head of New Macho, a new marketing division aimed at changing the perception of men in the media and advertising.
“They are performing like who they think they have to be, not being who they are. The question is, how do we help men to connect with themselves, and through that with the world around them?
“When men travel alone, the pressure to perform decreases. You don’t have the usual pressure from your work, family or peers. You can relax. And you meet people with different experiences, who embrace different views of masculinity. That validates that there are other ways of thinking. It can be very inspiring.”
This meeting of unfamiliar minds not only allows for ideas to come in, but ideas to flow out. Ideas that men might not be willing to put forward among their peer group.
“Many men are beginning to feel a little more open to showing their feelings and being more sensitive,” says psychologist Honey Langcaster-James. “Travel can help men explore new sides of themselves in a safe way. When we travel we often meet new people for relatively brief periods of time and we can try interacting in new ways, knowing that we can always return to the comfort of normality if we wish.
“For men, this may be especially welcome as they can express parts of themselves which may not usually get expressed. Some men may feel more comfortable talking to strangers about their feelings and experiences than they do with people in their everyday life as they can take risks without worrying about the impact on an ongoing relationship.”
EXIT THE COMFORT ZONE
Using travel to discuss ideas, to play with your personality, and to be more emotionally open is fantastic.
It’s also probably what people think of when they conjure up an image of the ‘new masculinity’– all cuddly and lovely. But embracing a new masculinity doesn’t have to involve just conversation around campfires: it can involve things that were traditionally seen as quite manly, like adventure.
What if you’re frightened of the water, but go kayaking in Guatemala? What if you hate bugs, but trek through the Malaysian jungle at night? What if heights leave you petrified, yet you climb the peaks of Peru? You’re not just battling fear, you’re also showing fear, which is something men were always discouraged from doing. You can only beat an enemy you can see.
According to Desouches, a good old rough and tough blokey holiday can actually be healthy.
“I think it’s good to travel alone,” he says. “If you travel with others, you relegate your own desires. When you travel alone, you need to think what *you* want. Better things happen when you put yourself first. It’s better for relationships, for connecting with yourself, because you are being yourself.
“But group travel is good, too, if it allows you to connect in different ways. It’s better if you just travel with other men. You will experience different views of masculinity.
There’s something intangible when men travel with other men. There’s a masculine energy. If you are in a mixed group, men start performing to get the girl. The goal for men is to be free and this way they are not totally free.”
There’s one situation when Desouches thinks it’s good for your travel companion not to be a stranger.
“It’s very good for fathers and sons to travel together,” he says. “There is very little good quality communication between fathers and sons. I spend three days away with my father.
Men sometimes need a ritual to open up. We live in the open air, in tents, and we will talk about things we never talk about in general. In my view, I think all-male trips could be very powerful. It could be easier than trying to do it every day in pub.”
GET SOME PERSPECTIVE
Perhaps the greatest benefit of travelling alone for any man on a quest to embrace new ways is that of perspective.
“See the world!” is a piece of advice handed out freely and confidently, because it is a really good idea. The more you see and understand of the world, of different cultures and opinions and ways of life, the more educated your opinions are, the more exciting and varied your experiences are – in short, the better you are. If you only ever eat in a chip shop, then all you’ll know about is chips.
“Travel is a transformative experience,” says Desouches. “It shrinks the world. The more exposed we are to the world, the more it can change the way we see it.”
Travel also changes the way we see ourselves. It gives us time to reflect on our own behaviour, our own characteristics – good or bad – but it also gives us six billion other people to compare ourselves against. Like that product comparison bit you get on Amazon, but with only one user review: yours.
And by doing this, by looking at ourselves and others, and deciding on the bits we like and don’t like, we can become better men – for that, essentially, is what the new masculinity is all about.
I think it’s time to book, don’t you?
WANT TO BECOME A BETTER MAN BY DOING ‘MANLY’ THINGS? TRY THESE TRIPS…
Take on a snowmobile safari, hike beneath Northern Lights on an evening snowshoe adventure, try your hand at ice rally driving and sharpen your survival skills making a wilderness lunch in the middle of nowhere. All geared to push you out of your comfort zone to try new experiences. With people like you, of course.
Tube down the turquoise waters of the stunning Rio Celeste, hike incredible lava fields, wallow in hot spring waterfalls; this is a wilderness adventure into one of the most eco-friendly nations on earth. But it’s not all go, go, go – there’s plenty of time for some self-reflection on beautiful golden beaches and in front of spectacular natural views. You in?
Raft through jungle lowlands, trek the lush foothills of the Himalayas and tick off a bucket list moment in style by seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise. For a touch of the high life, you’ll also swim in rooftop infinity pools over Kathmandu, stay in a Jaipur palace fit for a king and chill out in a lodge in the Annapurna peaks, under clear starry skies. Living the dream.